Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hockenheim Ring

I've always liked driving. Some see it as a chore or just something that needs to be done to get from A-to-B. Not me. I even worked as a pizza-delivery guy for about five years and I loved it because I was out in my car driving around. Even driving in the rain and snow were often a treat. About 5 years ago, I was in the market for a new car and had decided on a MINI Cooper after driving it and a few other similar cars. Nothing compared to it and I've never had so much fun driving as I did with that car, especially when I got to do things like driving in the San Diego back country with my old MINI club, Auto-Cross racing, or going to a bunch of track days at places like Laguna Seca (near Monterrey, California).

Right around the same time, I started getting interested in Formula1 and have followed it on and off over the years. It was a natural fit with my love of cars and, for me, it's infinitely more interesting than NASCAR, mostly because of the track and car designs. Two years ago, I went to see Formula1 in person in Barcelona, which was pretty amazing. Well, here Germany, they also have an annual Formula1 event. It's held at the Hockenheim Ring located about half-way between Frankfurt and Stuttgart. A friend of my roommate's mom scored some VIP tickets to a recent race weekend so we loaded up the whole family to watch a track day...

It was very cool because the VIP tickets gave us open access to all areas of the pit and track. The weekend was a mixed-car-type event and included a Lotus Cup Race Series as well as a bunch of Formula-V cars (race cars built with the old-style, air-cooled VW Beetle motors) like these:

It was fun to walk around the pit area to see the cars being worked on and to be able to smell the brake dust up close. These pits are the ones that run along the main straightaway and are used by the Formula1 teams during the annual race weekend.

This is the pit that's used by Mark Weber of team RedBull Racing:

The cars that were being driven that weekend was a pretty amazing, and extremely expensive, collection of serious hardware. Here are some nice gull-wing Mercedes race cars being race prepped in one of the pit bays:

At one point, we got a not-so-famous celebrity sighting. Apparently there's a German former Olympic ski jumper that's made "the jump" to car racing and he was driving that day. I have no idea who he is but he's the one on the left in the white racing suit (note that he drives a tricked-out Corvette):

The highlight of the day was getting to visit track control for an in-depth tour.

Race control staging a new group out on the track:

...and then monitoring the race:

At one point on the tour we watched the track announcer doing the voice over. It's amazing how fast he talks. You don't notice it when you're watching the racing but when he's in front of you - it's fast! The whole thing was extra-special since I know that in just a short time that this year's Formula1 event will be here and that it'll be packed. The TV control room reminded me of when I visited my friend John John at Fox Studios in Los Angeles, where he works.

It was also very cool to get to hang out along the long, straightaway wall and take photos. I'd like to say that this older Mini Cooper was so far ahead of its group that it's all alone but you'd probably know better. Also, the scale of this photo looks crazy. The Minis are either really, really tiny or the track suddenly got verrrrrrrrrrry wide!

It's places like Hockenheim that make me really miss my MINI. I miss driving that fun, little car. A special big thanks to Martin for providing the tickets and driving us up to the track. I had a great time!

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